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Nik Stauskas 2.0

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Nik Stauskas probably doesn’t care.

Mercifully, the 23-year-old Canadian has learned to channel his energy to matters that only he can control.

Stauskas, whose notoriety can be attributed to equal parts being a lottery pick from Mississauga and the owner of a nickname Sauce Castillo sparked by a closed captioning faux pas, is yet to nestle into NBA normalcy.

Nothing quite screams eccentric like having your entry into the league overshadowed by an ill-fated draft day publicity stunt, inking an endorsement deal with Musashi Foods, or being sewn to a lopsided salary dump with little more than 1,100 regular season minutes under your belt.

It’s all gravy for someone who might finally be en route to a stable situation, albeit not how he might have imagined.

Routinely mocked and banished to the corner with dunce caps by talking heads, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in an awkward transitional phase — migrating from one regime to another, with a clunky roster to boot.

The organization’s stubborn pursuit of top-end talent has lumped head coach Brett Brown with the duty of mining in a dark cave clogged by a group of players whose collective ceiling hovers somewhere near ‘rotational NBA guy’.

In four seasons, no fewer than 60 different players — of which exactly half are no longer in the league — have received floor time with Brown’s Sixers.

“We keep it real. We work hard,” Brown told reporters, at the tail end of an especially exhausting first year on the job. “I think the people coming in see the environment we’re trying to build, the culture we’re trying to create, and so they’re compliant.”

Brown, of course, has at no point been under any illusions as to what he signed up for.

“We move along with the group. I think that is true, in regard to a revolving-type of door, but it was always going to be part of our plan when we’re trying to identify people and trying to pick a few that can continue on with us.”

Zeroing in on precisely who might fit into that “few” welcomed into the long-term picture has been a fun game for those who fancy themselves as armchair scouts.

Eight weeks ago, many had pigeonholed Stauskas as a failed experiment more likely to join the club of Sixers castaways than to emerge as a nightly contributor.

Kudos must go to the sharpshooting Canuck for turning it around. Stauskas’ strong November has already earned him a public apology (of sorts) from Sixers diehards, and a novelty tee to match.

He is doing plenty more than piling up hollow counting stats, too.

Stauskas steered clear of the training camp guillotine when the Sixers elected to pick up the fourth-year option on his rookie contract on October 26.

To validate management’s low-risk investment in him, he had to at least show the nous to be more than a spotty, standstill shooter.

Sauce had 35 starts — including 13 straight in Philly’s winless November — in an otherwise pedestrian 2015-16, often chastised for hoisting up jumpers and struggling to recapture his collegiate stroke.

But it’s a run that had to have weighed on his mind in recent weeks as he observed restless crowds prey on teammate Robert Covington’s perimeter woes.

Covington drifted uncomfortably, given a lifeline by the coaching mantra, “shooters shoot.”

“I’m going to back the fact that shooters shoot and [Covington’s] time is not far away and that he is playing good defense and he does know what we’re doing,” said Brett Brown.

That’s kind of where it’s at for this team. Maybe it doesn’t mesh with any other script in the league, but for Stauskas, Covington, and others on the Sixers’ roster, November, December, and January minutes are equally as important as the backend of the schedule.

Filling the wings on a team whose identity is finally beginning to materialize, Stauskas’ developmental path feels more linear than ever before.

At the quarter mark of the season, averages of 13.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per 36 minutes are what catch your eye.

By almost any measure, Stauskas is unshackled and nudging the upper echelons — offensively.

He is taking his shots almost exclusively at the rim and beyond the arc, with only 17 per cent of his attempts emerging in the abyss in between, per Basketball-Reference.

That deliberate shot selection and a renewed willingness to get out on the break and look to finish is the formula behind his true shooting numbers (61.8 per cent).

Truth be told, those figures would likely be even more impressive, had he not been saddled with an abnormal number of late-clock heaves, courtesy of Philadelphia’s shabby offensive execution.

Bracing for a regression is a perfectly fine position to take when analyzing this production. The patterns of play are what leave more room for encouragement, though.

Ranking in the 81st percentile (according to Synergy Sports data) on catch-and-shoot looks is very welcome but hardly earth shattering for a guy of Stauskas’ reputation.

A steady free-throw attempt rate, converting at 1.171 points per possession around the basket in the half court, and a concerted effort to attack have supplemented his usual habits.

Spending time strictly in an off-ball role has brought with it the freedom to focus on what’s clicking, currently. Without the polish to persist as a secondary playmaker — only setting up teammates on roughly 10 per cent of possessions — it’s best for Brett Brown’s staff to keep the broad confines of their pickpocketed former lottery selection in place.

Ultimately, the manila folder on Nik Stauskas is making for enjoyable reading.

There’s a desperate need for him to curb unforced errors and sketchy passing decisions, and plenty of room for Stauskas to learn to utilize his frame in both individual and team defensive concepts, but the progress is there.

If and when things waver deeper into the season, he’ll need no reminding of how unsettling life in basketball purgatory can be.

The evidence, however, is starting to tilt in his favor.

514 minutes of offensive output is nice and has the bones of a cautionary tale on team-building and prevailing belief in talent.

Should something deeper and more sustained surface, then there just might be a marketplace for Sauce, after all.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Angus’ work as a basketball scribe has taken him everywhere from the bowels of the ACC, to Summer League stoushes, to Steve Nash’s Showdown in Chinatown, to the FIBA Oceania Championships, and beyond. His words have previously appeared on ESPN’s TrueHoop network blogs, The Cauldron, Sportsnet, and NBA.com/Australia, among others. A self-described ‘adopted Canadian’, Angus also has a soft spot for Brett Brown’s bizarre Bostonian-Australian accent, and all things Dražen Petrović.

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Featured Article

Ride The Wave

Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things were good then.

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Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers, drawing in a decent support team and a lot of talk that the West was looking incredibly dominant next to a “weaker” East. Things were good then.

Five months later and things couldn’t be farther from that idylistic picture. The East thrived without the King and GMs put together some of the most noteworthy teams in a while. And the Lakers? The Lakers currently sit in the 11th spot of the Western Conference with very little hope of making it to the playoffs. They’re a team that is constantly attacked for their lack of chemistry, skill, and effort. For the first time in a long time, LA became synonymous with “hopeless”.

This wasn’t the future we saw for the King.

On the heels of a night filled with one of his greatest achievements ever, the Lakers as a team walked away with a loss to the Denver Nuggets. A night that began on a high note went out on one that was equivalent to sour candy. Furthermore, a frustrated team left an arena, hopped on social media, and found a bevy of congrats for their star player, while enduring the storm that came with another Lakers loss.

It seems that James’ stardom has reached a tipping point, one that makes him a GM one moment, the King of the league the next, and finally the biggest point of contention within the locker room. The most notable thing is that it is clearly wearing him down. Chris Martin let us know that “nobody one said it was easy”, but you’ve got to ask yourself, does it have to be so hard?

The answer is unfortunately, yes. It’s always going to be this way, and there is no fighting the current, but there is beauty in riding the wave. Embracing that moment when the wave comes crashing down on you is important, because it’s always going to happen, but your attitude will always be remembered. LeBron rides high, and keeps things in the positive light for the media, but he’s got to realize that they are writing his story, and he doesn’t have to play into their’s. Ride the wave, and take the loss in stride with all the great that has come with it, but take the loss because your part of a team that is.

The wave has crashed down, but the current will bring another.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

Year 15 of a legacy…

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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